for this game

Shaq wins duel in the desert vs. Kobe

Mar 2, 2009 - 1:16 AM PHOENIX (Ticker) -- Sunday afternoon's shootout was an old-fashioned duel between a pair of old rivals, but it was the supporting casts that made the difference.

Matt Barnes scored seven straight points, including a back-breaking 3-pointer, in the final 2 1/2 minutes of play, upstaging the afternoon-long battle between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal and lifting the Phoenix Suns to a 118-111 triumph over the Los Angeles Lakers.

"It was a great win for us against what I think is the best team in the league," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "Still, it's just one win; we can't count it as five or six."

Bryant finished with 49 points - his 96th career performance with at least 40 - but Shaq and his 33-point, seven-rebound showing won out. The Suns prevailed despite playing without star point guard Steve Nash, who missed his third straight contest with a sprained right ankle.

"I have been doing this since 1992," Shaq said. "That is what I do. If you don't believe me, you can Google me."

The Suns were holding a tenuous lead late in the fourth quarter - tenuous because momentum had swung back and forth for the entire half - when Barnes drew a foul and buried a pair of free throws, extending the lead to 109-103.

"We feel we can play with anybody if we do it the right way," Shaq said. "Today we did mostly everything right."

Derek Fisher misfired on the other end and Luke Walton fumbled away the offensive board, giving the Suns another shot to give themselves some breathing room.

It was Barnes who provided it. The lanky forward pulled up from long range and buried it, pushing the lead to nine with time running out.

"Alvin is telling me to just go out there and play," Barnes said. "I may make a couple of mistakes, but for the most part I am going to do good for the team, and that has helped me go out there and play free."

For all of Bryant's heroics, the reigning MVP couldn't bring his club back in this one as they stumbled to a rare two-game losing streak.

It was also retribution for a loss on Thursday, when the Lakers exploded for an easy, 132-106 triumph over Phoenix at the Staples Center.

"We got back in the game in the fourth quarter and got the game in control, at least; then we gave it back," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It was a strange run of sorts, and we really didn't take care of the ball or balance our defense very well."

Despite a largely dominant first half, the Suns seemed to be in danger of getting run out of their own arena early in the third as Bryant heated up faster than his NBA Jam facsimile, scoring 17 points in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the second half to put the Lakers on top.

"I know that everyone in Cleveland is going to be mad at me, but he is the best player in the game," Gentry said of Bryant.

He came out aggressive right away, attacking the basket on three straight possessions and pulling up from short range, slicing the deficit in half to 68-62. After Shaq and Pau Gasol traded baskets, Bryant fired away from long range and buried a 3-pointer and pulled Los Angeles to within one with a drive to the hoop.

"In the third, I just wanted us to get energy back," Bryant said. "I felt like we were playing lethargic and I tried to get us going and get us back in the game."

Kobe was far from finished. The superstar guard went right back to the basket two possessions later, giving the Lakers their first lead since the game's opening minute with a driving layup that he converted into a three-point play. And just for good measure, he buried another three moments later to give the Lakers a 75-70 edge.

That kind of scoring flurry may have been enough to break Phoenix's collective spirit. Instead, the Suns answered right back with a 13-0 run - doing all of their damage in the paint while exposing the Lakers' soft interior, a problem that continues to crop up in Andrew Bynum's absence.

"They were very aggressive and they knew they had a mismatch inside," Bryant said. "They went right to him and looked for him early and often."

The Lakers climbed back without their star on the floor early in the fourth, draining three straight 3-pointers and pulling to within two on Josh Powell's 14-footer. But despite continually climbing back within striking distance, the Lakers couldn't get over the hump.

"We made too many mental mistakes," Bryant said. "We had a five-point lead and got within two in the fourth quarter, then turned the ball over or put them on the free-throw line."

Barnes posted 26 points, 10 boards and seven assists for the Suns, while Leandro Barbosa collected 22 points and seven assists. The Suns remain two games in the loss column out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"Beating a quality team like that is good, but we are not going to get too high in a win or too low for a loss," Gentry said. "It was a really good win but we are not going to pop champagne yet."

Gasol added 30 points for the Lakers, but he and Bryant were the only Lakers to reach double figures in scoring. Lamar Odom managed just four points and six rebounds before fouling out.